Monday, 7 September 2009

the investigation [w. juan jose saer]

The Investigation marries two narratives which appear to be completely separate. The second describes a day when three friends take a boat out of Buenos Aires to visit the widow of a writer they used to know, and look at a manuscript that probably wasn't written by the writer, a six hundred page re-imagining of the Trojan war, set entirely on the Trojan side. The second narrative recounts how the distinguished Parisian police inspector Morvan is on the trail of a vicious serial killer who targets the old ladies of a wealthy Parisian arrondissement.

The spectre of Cortazar looms over Saer's book. It's quite a trick to jump between apparently unconnected narratives from paragraph to paragraph, and though it's a while since I read him, I have a feeling that Saer's fellow Argentine was one of the few that could pull it off. Nevertheless, the book stands up of its own right, and is curiously engaging, despite the writer's somewhat baroque prose style (which may be suffering in translation). The hook, unsurprisingly is the cunningly plotted and unashamedly gory crime narrative. When I put the book down at my place of work, one of my fellow readers looked at it and said - Umm, you've got me there - before noting that it was billed as a crime thriller, and becoming more conciliatory. Saer's Morvan is a wonderful character. It feels as though he merits a rather longer novel (and perhaps a kinder fate). However, in the end, just as we come to accept the seemingly random leaps between narratives, we also come to understand the way in which Morvan reconciles himself to his cruel fate, even embracing it to a certain extent.

There is in the book what appears to be a doffing of the hat towards the notion of chaos theory, as a butterfly bats its wings in Buenos Aires and this (might have) ramifications on the narrative in Paris. The book, written just before the global unleashing of the internet, seems to be dipping its toes into the theory that the actions of someone else, on the other side of the world, who we've never heard of, could end up, in a shrinking globe, affecting us in ways which we might never understand. The mystery of the interconnectedness of things, which is in some ways the story of the 21st century.

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